When they write the bible on the great trolls of history, the Satanic Temple should be on the cover. Founded in 2013 as a poke in the eye of religious conservatism, the organization has since transitioned into a fully sincere spiritual movement itself, one advocating principles of nonviolence, religious pluralism, scientific inquiry, individual liberty and Dungeons & Dragons garb. To date, the temple has attracted thousands of members worldwide, people who see themselves as outcasts disillusioned by traditional spirituality but still searching for a sense of community and purpose in their lives. Like Mormonism before it, Satanism has become a distinctly American religion.
And no, they don't really worship evil ... at least, so they claim.
Hail Satan? is a richly entertaining new documentary on the Satanic Temple's exploits from director Penny Lane, who has become one of our foremost chroniclers of bizarro Americana. Her debut, Our Nixon, charted an alternative history of the Nixon White House from the eyes of three of the disgraced president's closest aides, while Nuts! spun the salacious tale of a quack doctor who hoodwinked a gullible public into improving its sex drive with surgically implanted goat testicles. Now Lane steps from our weird history into an even weirder present: a time when state capitals are constructing Ten Commandments monuments on public grounds, and lawmakers are increasingly finding more inspiration from religious texts than from the Constitution.
Into this moment steps Lucien Greaves (not his real name), an activist for the separation of church and state, frequently clad in all-black shirts and sporting a mischievous grin. Along with the considerably more camera-shy Malcolm Jarry, Greaves co-founded the Satanic Temple (in Salem, Mass., naturally) by co-opting the likeness and imagery of Christianity's biggest, baddest evil figure and applying his own philosophy to the Horned One's symbology. So Satan becomes merely an "adversary," not a villain: a metaphor for questioning any kind of authority. And Eve's munching on the apple is celebrated as the moment the human race decided to embrace knowledge and develop a healthy sense of skepticism.